- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Recent surveys indicate a disease hitting one of Hawaii’s most important trees has spread to 34,000 acres.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said Friday the disease called rapid ohia death has been found in 34,000 acres of ohia forest on the Big Island.

Dr. Flint Hughes of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service says the disease is spreading much quicker than officials had expected.

The surveys were conducted by helicopter over five days from January 11. They covered 810,000 acres or about two-thirds of the Big Island’s ohia forests.

Officials had earlier estimated 15,000 acres were infected based on satellite imagery from 2014.

The ohia tree is important to Hawaii’s water supply, endangered native birds and Hawaiian cultural traditions like hula.

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